First MH17 bodies arrive in grieving Netherlands
By Nicolas Delaunay, AFP
July 25, 2014, 12:05 am TWN
EINDHOVEN, Netherlands--The first bodies from flight MH17 arrived in the Netherlands on Wednesday almost a week after it was shot down over Ukraine, as the conflict flared yet again near the Malaysian airliner's crash site.
Uniformed Dutch military personnel solemnly hoisted 40 wooden coffins from two planes and placed them in individual hearses at Eindhoven airport in the south of the country in a powerfully somber ceremony, as a trumpeter played the Last Post and a large crowd of the bereaved watched, shielded from the press.
The televised two-hour ceremony watched across the Netherlands and abroad came in stark contrast to the chaotic and disturbing scenes filmed in the aftermath of the plane crash.
Church bells rang throughout the country as the planes touched down in a much-delayed return for the first as-yet unidentified remains of the 298 people killed in the disaster, most of them Dutch.
In a dramatic new development in the conflict hampering the recovery and investigation effort, Kiev said missiles fired from Russia — accused by the West of provoking the MH17 disaster — took down two of its warplanes in the rebel-controlled area of the crash.
The Netherlands has been united in grief and growing anger because of delays in getting bodies home and over the way pro-Russian separatists have treated the site, the victims' remains and personal possessions.
The planes left from Kharkiv in Ukraine, where the remains were carried on board by army cadets before a small party of officials.
Around 1,000 bereaved relatives of the 193 Dutch dead, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and representatives of the other bereaved nations met the planes.
The bodies were then driven under police escort to a military base at Hilversum, southeast of Amsterdam, where forensics experts will identify them.
Flags of the 17 nations that lost citizens in the crash flew at half mast at the airport. Malaysia Airways counted 11 nationalities on the passenger manifest, but some had dual nationality.
Motorways along the 100-kilometer route from Eindhoven to Hilversum were closed for the long convoy to pass, with crowds gathering on bridges overhead to throw flowers at the hearses.
A minute's silence was observed nationwide, during which no flights landed or took off at Amsterdam Schiphol airport, from where the doomed Boeing 777 left six days earlier.